Selfies replace angst at Strawberry Fields

It’s 37 years since one of the most defining moments of my generation.

On December 8, 1980, John Lennon was gunned down outside the magnificent Dakota building in New York City’s Upper West Side.


In the time it took to pull the trigger four times, the world suffered a bitter and cruel blow.

Even now, the memory of that day brings a sense of sadness.  The sixties were an important part of my youth – and John Lennon and the Beatles embodied much of the spirit of those times.

But I’ve let go of my anger.

I realised how pointless it was the last time Sue and I visited Strawberry Fields, the memorial to Lennon and his music in New York City’s Central Park.

What I always regarded as a location of silent reflection,  instead has become one of the most popular places in the Big Apple for tourist ‘selfies’ – right up there with Trump Tower.

Time and tide wait for no man!

The Dakota Building

If you haven’t seen Strawberry Fields, the memorial is located just inside the park on readily accessible, level ground directly opposite the Dakota.

And take a ‘selfie’ if you must – it is special ground.


travel Upper West Side

Why the Upper West Side?

“Home to bankers, lawyers, media types, rumpled intellectuals, yuppies and out-of-work actors walking their dogs”.

Does this comment by The New York Times sum up Manhattan’s Upper West Side?


And no.

There is certainly a lot more to this iconic residential area of New York City with its affluent, highly livable streets and its cultural and intellectual feel.

We love Manhattan’s Upper West Side as a gentrified oasis, a world away from the bustle of Midtown.


Brownstone buildings of Manhattan’s Upper West Side

You can revel in its family atmosphere; the number of strollers on its pavements; its greenery; the remaining Mom and Dad shops; and chatter of children boarding yellow school buses.

Sure, a stay in the Upper West Side is not for those on a tight budget.

The neighbourhood is prosperous and expensive and we’ve found that hotel prices are often steep, even by New York City standards.

“If you’ve seen a leafy, residential Manhattan neighborhood depicted on TV or in the movies, there’s a decent chance it was the Upper West Side”.

To be strictly correct, the Upper West Side lies between Central Park and the Riverside Park –  and between West 59th Street and West 110th Street.

In the distance, you can see the Hudson River and the Washington Bridge.


New York City school bus

It has the reputation of being New York City’s cultural and intellectual hub, with Columbia University located at the north end of the neighbourhood and the Lincoln Centre  – featuring the New York Philharmonic,  the Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Ballet – at the south tip.

However, for us, the appeal is much less highbrow: morning walks, coffee in hand, to Central Park to take in the procession of life; the squirrels; ponds; tennis courts; joggers; people flying kites, taking photographs,throwing frisbees; practicing baseball and preparing for work.

And what a backdrop!

Some of Manhattan’s best known  buildings rise above the park, especially in the upper west.

These include the Eldorado, San Remo, Majestic and Century apartments and the brooding Dakota building, forever known as the spot where John Lennon was murdered in 1980.

The Dakota Building

Dakota building

How to get there:

Take the 1, 2 or 3 trains to various stops along Broadway, or the A, B, C or D trains to various stops along Central Park West.


Upper West Side US

Don’t miss this long-running Broadway show

One of the iconic stores in New York City is in its 83rd year of operating in Manhattan’s stately upper west side.

Zebars is a New York institution: a legendary appetizing and Jewish soul food shop at the corner of 80th Street and 2245 Broadway – and a feature of scores of television shows and movies.

The store is a favourite haunt of ours when in NYC, especially the mind-blowing tea and coffee section, which is the equal of anything we’ve seen at Harrods of London and other similar high profile shops.


Copyright Memorable Destination 2013

In New York City, it all started in 1934, when Louis Zabar, an arrival from what is now Ukraine, left his market stall in Brooklyn to establish a smoked-fish department inside a supermarket on Broadway near 80th Street.

Largely on the strength of its smoked salmon and a housewares section added in the 1970’s, Zabars steadily became a culinary magnet.

In the 1960’s, Zabars became well known for its Brie cheese; in the ’70’s it brought New Yorkers sun-dried tomatoes and gnocchi, and the following decade it became involved in a price battle with the speciality section of department store, Macys, for caviar.

This has gone down in New York folklore as the ‘Great Caviar War’.

On our last visit, we asked whether there had been a winner of the caviar standoff – and were told in no uncertain fashion that Zabars had emerged victorious and the real housewives of New York City had benefitted.

Zebars was also at the forefront of the trend toward drip coffee makers and by the 1970’s it was one of the biggest supermarkets in Manhattan.


Photo courtesy Zabars

Today, the gourmet store is one of the best known commercial landmarks of the Upper West Side and, as well as tea and coffee, it is known for its selection of bagels, smoked fish, olives, and cheeses.

Zebars appeared in the film, Banksy Does New York and was mentioned in the film You’ve Got Mail.


It has also been mentioned in the TV series V and episodes of Northern Exposure; Will & Grace; Dream On; The Green Inferno; How I Met Your Mother; Mad About You; Friends; Sex and the City; Broad City; The Nanny; Seinfeld; The West Wing; Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip; 30 Rock; The Daily Show; Hart of Dixie; Castle; Pardon the Interruption; Law & Order; and Gossip Girl.

Manhattan’s Upper West Side is an affluent, mainly residential area that has the reputation of being New York City’s cultural and intellectual hub.

Upper West Side US

Don’t miss this New York City oasis

It was a sunny Autumn day in New York City when we came across Trinity Wall Street.

Striding briskly through the frenzy of the city’s Financial District, in lower Manhattan, we were unexpectedly faced with an extraordinary sight – an old burial ground of tilting headstones, manicured green lawns and shady trees.


Alongside this green oasis – in the shadows of surrounding skyscrapers – stood a magnificent old stone church built in the classic Gothic Revival style.

We meandered along the stone pathways of the graveyard to discover that we’d stumbled upon a venerable American institution – Trinity Wall Street Episcopal church and its famous 300-year-old cemetery.


Photo courtesy: Village Voice

Apparently, the church site dates to 1697 when it was earmarked by the English King William 111 as the Anglican seat in the capital city.

There have been three church buildings on the site – near the corner of Wall Street and Broadway.

The current structure was built in 1846 and has been designated as a national historic landmark because of its architectural significance and place in the history of New York City.

We were told that, at the time of its completion, the 281 foot Neo-Gothic spire, surmounted by a gilded cross, dominated the skyline of lower Manhattan and was the highest point in New York until being surpassed in 1890 by the New York World Building.

Trinity became a welcoming beacon for ships sailing into New York Harbor.


Pausing in the shady cemetery, we also discovered that the two-and-a-half-acre yard contained the tombstones and memorials of notable 18th Century New Yorkers, including many leading participants of the American revolution and the early years of Republic.

We were also intrigued by the obviously more modern bronze sculpture of a tree alongside Trinity Church.


Apparently, the base of the sculpture is made from the roots of a huge sycamore tree that had stood for almost a century before it was flattened by falling debris from the nearby World Trade Centre after the September 11 terror attacks in 2001.

During the attack, people took refuge in Trinity from choking clouds of dust.

The tree sculpture carries a credit to artist, Steve Tobin.

Heading back into the busy Manhattan Financial District, we marvelled at the enormous contrast of such an oasis of calm and tranquility amid the hustle and bustle.

From Central Park to the High Line and Turtle Pond, such contrasts are not uncommon in New York City, where a special kind of beauty can await around almost any corner.

Main photo courtesy  Gigi alt (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

New York City Upper West Side

New York: find these six surprises

New York City constantly surprises.

As well as the usual attractions, there are many unexpected delights in a city of such astonishing diversity.

Thinking back to our last visit – in the warmth of the American fall – brings memories of unplanned adventures and priceless moments of quiet and beauty amid the hustle and bustle of Manhattan.


Central Park Lake

For example, any traveller to the Big Apple should seek out the Loeb Boathouse and lake in NYC’s Central Park.

The boathouse itself is faintly reminiscent of a slower time when diners undoubtedly sipped drinks and chattered about boats slipping by on the adjoining lake.

We were fortunate enough to do both.

A boating excursion there is truly a world away from the big city. As you move across the water, there is no better view of the grand bridges of Central Park.

The lake covers 22 acres and contains many shady, quiet coves, partly hidden by overhanging trees. It is an amazingly peaceful place, set against a vivid city backdrop.


Michael Friedsam Memorial Carousel

While in Central Park, don’t miss another surprising New York City attraction – a vintage carousel.

One of the biggest merry-go-rounds in the United States, the Michael Friedsam Memorial Carousel dates to 1908.

It has been a Manhattan institution for more than 60 years.

Not far away is Belvedere Castle, a tall stone structure which offers panoramic views over much of Central Park.

Folly NYC

Belvedere Castle in Central Park

The castle was intended to be a Victorian folly – a fantasy structure without a real purpose – but it served for many years as New York City’s official weather station.

While still in Central Park, don’t miss Strawberry Fields, a sombre but moving memorial to the late, great John Lennon. It is located directly opposite the Dakota building where Lennon was murdered.

An excellent way of viewing the Big Apple by night is to take a walk over one of the famous bridges that link the island of Manhattan with the mainland.

We were lucky enough to be guided over the Williamsburgh Bridge and it was a wonderful and unexpected experience to stand in the centre of the arch, feel the wind in your face and marvel at the noise of the city falling away in the breeze.


And, of course, one of the most surprising of all activities in NYC is a ride on the Staten Island Ferry.

Dubbed as ‘one of the world’s greatest and shortest water voyages’, the five-mile ferry ride is free of charge and provides a perfect view of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, as well as the skyscrapers and bridges of Manhattan.

New York City Upper West Side US